This monument to Estonian legioners of Waffen SS has been travelling all over Estonia for several years already. But judging by official and public hints, its peregrinations will soon come to an end and the memory of those who faught against the USSR will officially be immortalized.
We Put Off This Day As Much As We Could
As the 60 anniversary of the Victory over Nazi Germany draws closer, there is no trace of the old Soviet unanimity in the assessment of the last war in the newly-independent states on the territory of the former USSR. While the Red Army veterans prepare for the festivities in some countries, their enemies march past in others. “Vlast” magazine correspondents describe the situation in each of the post-Soviet countries where military operations took place.
During World War II about 30,000 Estonians served in the Red Army fighting Nazi Germany, and about 70,000 fought on the side of the Hitlerites. The police battalions formed in Estonia took part in punitive operations not only in their own country, but also in Byelorussia and Poland. In 1941, a terrorist-intelligence group under the code name “Erna” was despatched to the Red Army rear from Finnish territory, which mainly consisted of Estonians trained in Finland. They blasted the Tallinn – Leningrad railway line and entered into battle with the Soviet troops, but soon were encircled and completely routed. The 20th Estonian division Waffen SS included men mobilized by the German occupation forces and volunteers and fought the Red Army.
“Right up to 1944 mobilization proceeded rather slowly,” Vahur Lauri, the director of the film about the Estonians who fought in the 20th division Waffen SS, and called “Soldiers of the Totenkopf Division'” says. “And suddenly when the war was drawing to a close, they began to display mass valour. Those mobilized by the German occupation forces could either work at plants or in the fields, or join the SS troops. But they made their choice.” On the eve of the Independence Day marked in February, the Estonian Minister of Defence, Jaak Joeruut, handed 73 copies of this film to schools. He noted that the film is a useful additional material for lessons on the foundations of the country's defence, history, and other subjects.
For several years now a monument to the legioners of Waffen SS has been travelling around the country. In July 2002 a bronze bar-relief showing a warrior in the uniform of the 20th Division with an Iron Cross, tommy-gun and an inscription “To Estonians who faught in 1940 – 1945 against Bolshevism in the name of Estonia's independence” was about to be put up in one of the squares in Parnu by the national-radical circles. This triggered off a wave of protests in both Estonia and other countries. The municipal authorities decided to dismantle the monument. Then the national-radicals took it to the small settlement of Lihula, but this caused public indignation and finally it was removed. The SS veterans hold annual meetings which take place in some spots far from the capital. However, last year it was held in Tallinn.
The Soviet war veterans living in Estonia feel less comfortable. In accordance with the law “On Foreigners” and in contrast to other non-citizens of Estonia, they have no right to vote even in elections of the local bodies of power. And they don't have social privileges enjoyed by other inhabitants of the country.
The President of Estonia, Arnold Ruutel, along with the President of Lithuania, Valdis Adamkus, has been one of the first leaders of the post-Soviet states, who officially announced that he would not go to Moscow to attend the celebrations on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Victory over Nazi Germany. On May 8, a monument to the Estonians who fought against the Soviet invaders will be unveiled in the Maarjamagi Memorial Centre in Tallinn. The building of the memorial (900,000 crowns, or $75,000) was financed by the Tallinn municipal council and Estonian veterans who fought against he USSR. The monument is in the form of a big cross with tablets on which there are names of Estonian fighters against the Soviet troops, and a map made of pig iron with the dates and places of battles. This monument will be erected close to the memorial devoted to the Soviet soldiers.
The Letts entered the military hostilities on Germany's side in the beginning of the war against the USSR, on October 22, 1941. The 16th Latvian police battalion arrived to Dno railway station in the Leningrad Region in order to take part in he battles near Leningrad. In February 1943 Hitler signed an order on the formation of the Latvian legion. In all, about 140,000 men were mobilized to the Latvian legion Waffen SS. About 50,000 were killed in battle or later died in exile.
Historians point to the exceptional cruelty displayed by the legioners during punitive operations in Byelorussia. However, according to official Latvian history, “they did not take part in reprisals, but fought at the front. Not a single Latvian legioner was accused of war crimes.” True, the military history of the legion was quite short. The first and last large-scale operation of the 15th and the 19th divisions took place on March 16, 1944, and they were routed by Red Army units.
The veterans of Waffen SS who have emigrated to the West proclaimed March 16 the Day of the Latvian legion in 1952. In 1999 this day was made an official memorable date by the Latvian Seim, and the legioners were declared “true patriots fighting the Bolsheviks for Latvia's independence.” Official propaganda proceeds from the fact that although the Nuremberg tribunal branded SS as a criminal organization, the inhabitants of the occupied countries did not come under this regulation , inasmuch as they had no choice: it was only German citizens who could serve in the Wehrmacht.
The Seim's decision has evoked big protests. The European Union hinted that the official day connected with SS could become a reason for Latvia's non-admission to the organization. This was why the Seim excluded the Day of Latvian legion from the calender of memorable events in 2000. Street demonstrations on the day were banned and officials were told not to take part in any events connected with it. Nevertheless, this year the veterans held a manifestation in the centre of Riga. And the attempts of anti-fascists to prevent it were blocked by the police.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Latvia's President, was the only leader of the Baltic countries, who agreed to take part to arrive in Moscow for the official celebrations of the 60th anniversary of the Victory over Nazi Germany. However, the situation connected with the Soviet war veterans in Latvia causes great irritation in Moscow. In February the Latvian Seim adopted two decrees. One of them stated that non-citizens of Latvia would not have the status of victims of Nazism and, consequently, would not receive any social privileges due the Latvian citizens who had suffered from the hands of Nazis. And another granting the former “forest brothers” the status of participants in the national-liberation movement and a monthly bonus of 50 lvl ($100) in addition to their pensions.
Vike-Freiberga has made a rather curious statement about the Soviet war veterans. She said: “Of course, we shall not be able to persuade or change the consciousness of elderly Russians who on May 9 will place dried Caspian roach on newspaper sheets, drink vodka, sing limericks and remember how they heroically conquered he Baltic countries.”
During the last war the police units formed by Lithuanians took an active part in punitive operations in which about 175,000 (80%) of all Lithuanian Jews were exterminated. Several Lithuanian battalions fought against the Red Army on the Eastern Front and against guerillas. The President of Lithuania, Valdas Adamkus, served in one of the Lithuanian regiments fighting the Red Army from August until October 1944, of which he told in his autobiography.
Nevertheless, the present situation in Lithuania can be considered relatively calm and quiet against the background of other Baltic countries. The war veterans living in Lithuania receive a government bonus to their pensions amounting to 138 ltl (40 euros). True, those who served in the Soviet law-enforcement agencies and communist party organizations do not get it. Retired officers of the Soviet Army get Russian military pensions and the most needy receive an additional assistance from the Russian Embassy.
The Soviet veterans living in Vilnius on Victory Day gather at the spot (now empty) opposite the Government House where there were the grave of and monument to General Chernyakhovsky until 1991. Then the new Lithuanian authorities dismantled the monument and sent the remains of the general to his birthplace in Voronezh in Central Russia. This year the veterans plan to have a meeting in the Antakalnis memorial cemetery. The municipal authorities promised to light the eternal flame there.
The former “forest brothers” receive a government pension amounting to 552 lits (160 euros). True, there are only about 350 of them left. The official holidays in Lithuania are the anniversary of the uprising against the Soviet rule in Kaunas on June 23, on the eve of the German offensive, and the Day of Partisan marked on the third Sunday in May.
Most Ukrainians fought the German invader in the ranks of the Red Army. But there were those fighting against it: some in the SS division “Galichina” formed by the Hitlerites, others in the ranks of the Ukrainain insurgent army (UPA) who fought against both the Red and German armies.
|People protesting against demonstrations of SS veterans are detained by the authorities of Riga (top), but in Moscow (on bottom photo a marcher at the Embassy of Latvia) their freedom is not hampered by anybody or anything.
The first military unit coming out for independence in the beginning of the war was the “Polesskaya Sich” commanded by Taras Bulba-Borovets. From the summer of 1941 it supported and protected the so-called Olevskaya Republic in the Zhitomir Region. But in November 1941, the Germans disarmed its men and in May 1942 Taras Bulba-Borovets organized a guerilla detachment. Soon an armed unit of the Organization of Ukrainian nationalists (OUN) headed by Stepan Bandera came into being, which united several scattered groups and laid the foundation of the UPA, which fought against the German army, the Polish Armia Krajowa (it stopped military hostilities against the latter by the end of the war), and from 1944 against Soviet power. The main forces of UPA were routed only in 1948, and separate attacks of small groups of UPA continued to 1954.
The SS division “Galichina” began to form in Lvov in April 1943. There were about 62,000 volunteers, and only 12,000 were selected. In the first battle near Brody in July 1944 the division lost a greater part of its men. The Red Army didn't take them prisoner. The remnants of the division fought the Soviet troops in the Balkans and in 1945 they surrendered to the British army. The British regarded them as POWs and, in contrast to the men and officiers of the Russian liberation army of General Vlasov, did not give them up to the Soviet Union. About 1,500 men settled in Britain, but those who returned were imprisoned in GULAG.
The Soviet war veterans in Ukraine enjoy the privileges envisaged by the law on the status of war veterans and guarantees of their social protection and adopted by Ukranian parliament in 1993. Under the law they get medicines free of charge, free medical treatment, free vouchers for staying at sanatoriums and rest homes, free use of municipal and suburban transport, 75% discount in housing rent and payment for communal services, and various tax privileges.
There have been numerous attempts to grant similar privileges to the veterans of UPA. But the draft law submitted to Ukrainian parliament was pigeonholed. True, despite the absence of the law, UPA veterans succeed in getting various privileges individually.
On March 1, Vyacheslav Kirilenko, the Minister of Labour and Social Service in the government of Yulia Timoshenko, told the mass media that the ministry was ready to submit a draft on restoring social justice with regard to certain categories of World War II veterans. The document envisages the social protection of the UPA veterans on a par with the veterans of the Great Patriotic War. No doubt, this draft will be criticized not only by Russia and the Ukrainian regions with the predominantly Russian-speaking population, but also by Poland whose inhabitants still remember bloody clashes between the UPA and the Polish army as a result of which thousands of peaceful citizens died.
As to the SS veterans, their rehabilitation at a state level is hardly possible for the time being. True, there have been such attempts at a local level. In March the municipal council of Ivano-Frankovsk adopted a decision recognizing the veterans of the SS division “Galichina” participants in the military activities for the freedom and independence of Ukraine and granted certain privileges to them.
The 60th anniversary of the Victory over Nazi Germany will be marked in Ukraine at a state level. On May 8, President Yushchenko will come to Moscow, and May 9 he will spend in Kiev. Ukrainian parliament decided to hold a march past of war veterans in Kreshchatik and then they all will sit at tables together with the President, members of the government and parliamentarians for a festive dinner.
By 2005 there were 15,300 war veterans living in Moldova. Almost 14,000 of them fought in the ranks of the Red Army and about 1,500 served in the army of Romania which was Germany's ally until August 1944 and then sided with the anti-Hitler coalition. After the war the Moldavians who fought in the Romanian army and returned home were arrested and exiled.
During the war no SS or Wehrmacht units were formed on the territory of Moldavia. Local young men were forcibly enlisted in the Romanian army.
The law on rehabilitation and equal rights to the participants in World War II was adopted under President Mircea Snegur in 1993. According to it, all citizens of Moldova who took part in the war in the ranks of the Romanian army, except those sentenced for war and other crimes, were recognized as veterans.
During President Voronin's term of office a decree and a law on additional social privileges to the war veterans were adopted which determined their economic and social rights and payments and privileges. Moldavian veterans say that today they feel better and are better off than in the early 1990s.
There are two important days marked in the republic: Victory Day on May 9 and the Day of Liberation from Nazi invaders marked on August 24 (it was the outcome of the Iasi-Kishinev military operation which was completed on August 24, 1944). Last year a memorial of military glory was unveiled on the Serpeni bridgehead from where the Soviet army offensive had begun. Two years ago the republican government adopted a decision on the reconstruction of all monuments, memorials and common graves which should be completed by the 60th anniversary of the Victory over Nazi Germany.
A delegation of Moldavian war veterans will be going to Moscow to take part in the V-Day march past. And the veterans of the Iasi-Kishinev battle from the CIS countries have been invited to come to Moldova as guests of its government. A memorial plaque will be installed on the monument to military glory in Kishinev with the names of Heroes of the Soviet Union born in Moldavia inscribed on it.
It is not yet known whether President Vladimir Voronin will go to Moscow to attend the V-Day celebrations. The decision has not been adopted so far, although an invitation from Russia was received a year ago.
Belarus is the only post-Soviet republic to the west from Russia where the assessments of World War II do not cause any controversies. The “last Soviet republic” on the European part of the former USSR, Belarus demonstrates the greatest consistency and continuity in its attitude to the war veterans. By 2005 there were more than 85,000 of them in the republic. The law envisages a number of social privileges granted them: 50% discount in housing rent and payments for communal services, free medicines, free travel on municipal and suburban transport, free ticket to any part of the CIS once a year, free sanatorium treatment. On the eve of the anniversary all veterans will receive a bonus amounting to 70-200 thousand Belarus roubles (about $30-90). As the Minister of Social Security of Belarus, Antonina Morova, said, “Belarus is the only country in the post-Soviet area which preserevd and improved the system of social benefits and privileges for the war veterans.”
If there are veterans who took part in the war on the side of Germany, they prefer to keep mum. There is no talk of any privileges to them or their social recognition. During the war the 30th infantry division of SS was formed in Byelorussia on the basis of several Byelorussian and Ukrainian police battalions which fought at the Western from from September 1944. In December 1944 it was disbanded and part of it joined the Russian liberation army of General Vlasov. Some of its officers served in the 25th and 38th SS divisions.
After the war those who fought on the side of Germany were either shot or exiled to Siberia. There are no official data on the number of those sentenced or exiled. Soviet propaganda described Byelorussia as a guerilla republic and any information which contradicted that image was banned or withheld.
Veterans of SS in Germany
In the Federal Republic of Germany the status of all war veterans and persons who suffered during military actions, is determined by the federal law adopted on January 22, 1982. According to Article 1a of this law, payments should not be paid to persons who committed crimes against humanity during the years of national-socialism. The law envisages a thorough investigation of all people who voluntarily served in the ranks of SS. But all former men and officers of SS not guilty of war crimes have the right to receiving pensions if their health was impaired during military hostilities. According to German expert estimates, the number of such persons in Germany reaches 50,000 and the federal budget spends more than 300 million euros on paying various bonuses to them annually. Besides, the federal court in Kassel ruled in December 1998 that several Latvian citizens who had served in SS during the war would get German pensions. In November 1997, the Bundestag adopted another law banning war criminals to get pensions.
There are special government bodies and non-governmental funds who investigate the past activities of army pensioners. Naturally, the SS or Gestapo veterans do not stage any manifestations or attend any meetings, fearing to lose their pensions. True, the German mass media report neo-Nazi demonstrations from time to time at which elderly people can be seen and heard singing songs of the Third Reich.
All the Article in Russian as of Apr. 11, 2005